Group: SRP Officials’ Arrests Politically Motivated

Criminal charges brought last week against three Kompong Thom SRP party officials are vintage CPP campaign tactics, designed to weaken political rivals in advance of July’s national elections, Human Rights Watch alleged in a Sunday statement.

“Dubious arrests of opposition officials months ahead of an election should set alarm bells ringing,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Hu­man Rights Watch said in the statement.

“This divide-and-conquer strategy is a well-known tactic of Prime Minister Hun Sen to subdue his opponents.”

The London-based rights group further alleged that the CPP has long used the police and courts to orchestrate criminal charges against its political rivals, engineered fractiousness in rival parties, and coerced rival politicians to defect.

CPP officials quickly denied the charges, insisting that the courts of Cambodia have and continue to operate independently, and that the CPP is confident enough of victory in July that it doesn’t need to intimidate its rivals.

“We don’t harm any political party. We are the party who is always the victim of criticism,” CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap said by phone Sunday.

Human Rights Watch’s charges were sparked by last week’s arrest of Thuon Saron, the SRP chief of Baray district’s Pongro commune, for allegedly illegally confining former SRP Baray commune councilor Tim Norn to prevent her from defecting to the CPP.

Arrest warrants have been issued for two other SRP officials—Sralao commune councilor Men Vannak and deputy SRP provincial council chief Thorn Rithy—allegedly involved in the incident.

SRP Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang said those two men, and a third, who has not yet been accused, are in hiding in Phnom Penh and have approached the US Embassy and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, seeking assistance.

“We want the international community to pressure Hun Sen’s government to respect the law,” he said.

Thorn Rithy said by telephone Sunday that he was considering seeking asylum.

Human Rights Watch also objected to the fact that Hun Sen had appointed Sok Pheng, an SRP parliamentarian from Kompong Thom who defected to the CPP last month, to investigate the case.

“There’s no pretense of an independent justice system when the prime minister publicly accuses the opposition party of committing crimes, and appoints his own person—a government adviser with no law enforcement jurisdiction—to ‘investigate,’” Adams said in the statement.

Sok Pheng said his work for the Prime Minister had nothing to do with the courts. “I am giving my report to human rights associations,” he said.

“I do not interfere with the case. I never have contact with the court.”

US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle said Sunday that the em­bassy was aware of the case but had not had direct contact with the three men.

“Individuals have a right to switch political parties without harassment or intimidation from the former party,” he said. “Any investigation into allegations of such conduct must be thorough, transparent, and free from political influence.”

He added that, in general, people seeking asylum in the US must prove they have well-founded fear of persecution.

Christophe Peschoux, country representative of UNOHCHR, could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Speaking by phone from an undisclosed location Sunday, a tearful Tim Norn said she had been held at a guesthouse against her will for two days.

“I was very afraid. I almost lost my mind,” she said.

Licadho Director Naly Pilorge said last week that when Tim Norn spoke with Licadho about the incident, she had not complained about being held against her will.

Now, Tim Norn says she fears violent retribution from SRP officials.

“I am concerned about the SRP, that they would kill me. I want security,” she said.

Eng Chhay Eang said she need not fear. “The SRP would never kill anyone. We don’t have a violent culture,” he said.

He added that the CPP has been playing the same political game for years. “They are buying people and spending government money. If the CPP had no tricks, the SRP would win,” he said.

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